Friday, December 28, 2012

Swedish meatballs


    If you're looking for a last minute hors d'oeuvre to serve at your New Year's Eve party, meatballs are a pretty safe and easy option. They're dead simple to make and everybody loves 'em. Italian meatballs with tomato sauce are a bit been-there-done-that, so why not go the Swedish route? A while back I spent a bit of time in Sweden and I fell in love with their meatballs. Over there it's not just some Ikea cliche. They're everywhere. I had some amazing meatballs from street side vendors as well as some delicious homemade versions.      

       Swedish meatballs are a little softer that their Italian cousins, thanks to a healthy amount of breadcrumbs. What also sets them apart is the accompaniment.  You'll often see them served with gravy, but my favorite sauce to have them with is the uniquely Swedish lingonberry sauce. Lingonberries are small, sour red berries.  Unfortunatly, they are pretty much impossible to find in North American stores, so for my version I went with plums. With a little honey and red wine vinegar, you get about the same effect. 

    The lingonberry sauce that you find in Sweden (and Ikea) is actually very similar to cranberry sauce, so if you have some left over from Christmas dinner, that would make a perfectly good dipping sauce for these meatballs. I recently posted a recipe for a tangerine cranberry sauce that I might have used here, but I already used it as my garnish for my duck rillette canapes

      The ginger & clove plum sauce is very easy to make. You simply simmer plums in red wine with honey and vinegar, add the ginger & cloves and them puree everything together in a blender. The sauce comes out a brilliant purple with a perfect sticky-sweet texture. It's something you might want to make again to go with chicken or pork chops.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes. Serves 8


Ingredients:

1 lbs (454g) medium fat ground pork 
1 egg
1 cup breadcrumbs 
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onions, finely diced 
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (dried basil, thyme & oregano) 
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce  

Plum sauce:

2 cups fresh plums, chopped
1 cup red wine 
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 pinch ground cloves

1. To make the plum sauce: In a small sauce pot, combine the chopped plums with the honey & vinegar. Add the ginger & ground cloves. Add the red wine and then just enough water to make sure that the plums are covered. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook until the plums are very soft - about 10 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature and then puree in a blender. 


2. In a chilled mixing bowl, combine the ground pork with the remaining ingredients and mix well. The easiest way to mix the ingredients is with your hands, but be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before & after handling raw pork. 



3. Roll the mixture into 20 balls that are about 25g, or 1 oz. Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the meatballs until they evenly browned. Transfer to a baking sheet and finish in the oven at 350F for 8 minutes. Check to ensure that they are fully cooked before serving. If they are still a bit pink in the middle, return the meatballs to the oven for another 8 minutes. 

4. Serve with warm plum sauce





Monday, December 24, 2012

Warm Brie Canapes with Balsamic Onion Jam


       Most people's go-to option for snacks when hosting a dinner party is to offer a cheese platter. Nothing wrong with that - I loves me some cheese & crackers. This little hors d'oeuvre is good choice if you want to offer something just a bit more interesting. Serving brie cheese warm and melting really awakens it's flavours and the tart balsamic onion jam takes it to the next level. The onion jam has a punchy flavour that goes well with any kind of strong cheese. 

                   The cheese I choose for this recipe is called La Sauvagine. It's not really a "Brie"cheese, but it's the same style and has a robust flavour I just love. It's from a local producer here in Montreal and is found in most grocery store here, but I'm not sure how easy it is to find in the rest of Canada, or in the U.S. Any soft ripened cheese will work fine in this recipe, but ideally you should go for something with a punchy flavour that will hold up to the balsamic onion jam. Avoid double or triple-cream bries, because usually their flavour is milder and they can get too runny when heated. 
     The onion jam can be made ahead of time and will keep for weeks in the fridge if properly stored. The canapés can be made several hours ahead of time and kept in the fridge until need. Wait until the last moment to warm them up, because the are tastiest straight out of the oven. 

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes.  Makes 20 canapés 


Ingredients:

2 cups onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

200g Brie, Camembert or similar cheese 
20 crackers or toast points 



1. Put the onions in a frying pan, season with salt and then place on medium/high heat. Stir occasionally and when the onions have softened and just start to brown, add the butter and olive oil. Continue cooking on medium/high heat until the onions are evenly browned, stirring occasionally. 

2. Add the sugar and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce until most has evaporated and the syrup coats the onions. The jam can be made ahead of time and will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. 

3. Cut the cheese into 20 equal pieces and place each one on a cracker or toast point. Top with one small spoonful of onion jam. Place the crackers in a 300F oven until the cheese just starts to melt. About 3-5 minutes. 








Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Duck Rillette Canapes





                 This canapé is delicious and just a little fancy - perfect for a New Year's Eve party. It's also a good way to use up any leftover cranberry sauce you might have from Christmas dinner. Duck and cranberries go so well together, and I put some tangerine in my cranberry sauce, which make it perfect dressing for duck rillette.

      Rillette is a classic French preperation, that is made from braised or confit meat, mixed with fat. The most common varieties are made with pork or duck. You can mix in any herbs and spices you want, but I like to keep his simple, adding only some dijon mustard. Rillette should be served at room temperature. Straight out of the fridge it will be hard, making it difficult to spread. Once it warms up a bit, the fat will start to soften and the favours and aromas will really start to come out. Perfectly tempered rillette will have a moist, melting texture.

          I'll be posting a couple more ideas for New Year's Eve party treats in the next couple of days that are easy to whip up, but I must warn you that this recipe is a bit tricky. It takes a bit of planning to put it together because the duck has to be cooked ahead of time and then allowed to chill overnight to give the fat time to set. Although it is a slow process, there is not that much actual work involved. The duck takes a long time to cook, but only minutes to prepare.

     One way to save yourself a bit of time is to buy pre-cooked confit duck legs. All you will have to do is warm the legs so that they are soft enough to work with, shred the meat and mix in the mustard and fat. The advantage to starting with raw legs is that they will give off far more fat than confit legs, making for a richer rillette. Also, raw duck legs are usually less expensive. Some grocery stores might only have the pre-cooked variety anyway, so don't worry too much if that's what you use. The guest at your New Years Eve party will still be impressed with how sophisticated your cranberry duck hors d'oeuvre are.    

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 2 1/2 hours + 12 hours to chill. Makes about 15 bites.




Ingredients:

2 duck legs
1 small onion
1 head garlic
1 tablespoon juniper berries
salt & pepper

2 tbs dijion
toast or crackers for serving


Preheat the oven to 300F

1. Quarter the onion and cut the head of garlic in half across the middle and place in a large pot or dutch oven along with the duck legs and juniper berries. Add enough water to cover the legs half way. Cover with a lid or tin foil and place in the oven at 300F for 2 1/2 hours. When the meat separates easily from the bone, they are done. 



2. Allow to cool on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes and then transfer to the fridge. The legs can be chilled in the same pot that you cooked them in. If you transfer the legs to another container for practical reasons, make sure that you pour the broth & fat back over the legs so that the meat is covered as it chills to prevent drying. Chill overnight.

3. The next day, take the legs out of the fat. Put 3/4 cup of fat aside and allow it to come to room temperate. 

4. Take the meat off the duck legs and shred it. Stir in the reserved duck fat and 2 tablespoons dijon mustard. The mix should have the consistency of chicken salad. 



5. Spoon 1 tablespoon of duck mixture onto each cracker or toast and top with 1 teaspoon of tangerine cranberry sauce. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated to up to 2 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.  



Monday, December 17, 2012

Tangerine Cranberry Sauce





To me, it's not Christmas without cranberry sauce. It's as essential as turkey & stuffing and goes great on Christmas ham too. When I was young, we used to get that canned cranberry sauce that holds the shape of the can after you pour into the bowl. I loved it as a kid and it still kinda holds a special place in my heart. But one year my mother decided to make her own using fresh cranberries and orange juice. It was so tangy delicious that she never looked back and the old giggly canned variety became a thing of the past. So this recipe is dedicated to you Mum. 

 When it's time for you to lay out the Christmas spread, please don't mistreat that turkey and ham that you & your family have so lovingly slaved over with a can of goopy, gelatinous store-bought sludge. Making your own cranberry sauce with fresh (or even frozen) cranberries is ridiculously easy and well worth the 20 minutes or so it takes to whip up. 

     I like posting recipes for things that people usually don't bother to make from scratch because the store bought versions are so common. I've posted recipes for homemade ketchup, barbecue sauce and even marshmallows. What these recipes have in common are that they are based around a few simple ingredients and can be put together pretty easily. If at Christmas dinner this year your mother, father or anyone else has already put themselves in charge of the turkey, this simple recipe can be your little contribution. If you're not super confident in your skills behind the stove, once you see how easy this one is you might even be brave enough to attempt making some homemade marshmallows for dessert.  

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes. Makes 1L cranberry sauce


Ingredients

4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries 
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup tangerine juice 
zest from 2 tangerines
1 pinch salt


1. Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pot and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until the cranberries are soft and the syrup is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - about 10 minutes.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Brussels sprouts with almonds and bacon



     Poor, misunderstood brussles sprouts. They are the cartoon characture of foods kids hate. There's also no shortage adults who refuse to eat them. I can understand why most kids hate brussels sprouts because they have a strong flavour with a bitter edge to them. To me that bitter, punchy edge is exactly what gives them their adult appeal. I also get why plenty of adults have an aversion to brussels sprouts aswell. If they are cooked wrong, they can be pretty offensive. Brussels sprouts that have been maliciously overcooked in pot of boiling water will become a mushy, stinky mess. Cooked just right, with a generous amount of butter - or even better bacon - those brussels sprouts will sing.

    Because brussels sprouts have such a naturally strong flavour, they can hold up to some heavy handed garnishing. That's why I like to load mine with lots of toasted almonds & bacon, along with some Tabasco and Montreal steak spice. I also like to brown the brussles sprouts in the bacon fat until they are almost burnt, to get a wicked roasted flavour. Try this recipe for family at Christmas and you are sure to have a couple of brussels sprouts coverts, kids and adults alike.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes Serves 6




Ingredients:

5 cups Brussels sprouts, halved, stems & outer leaves removes
2 cups bacon, chopped
1 cup shaved almonds
1 tablespoon Montreal steak spice
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water to cool the sprouts after cooking. Cook the sprouts in the boiling water for 4 minutes and then strain and transfer to the ice bath.

2. Place the chopped bacon in a cold frying pan and then place on medium-high heat. Once the bacon gives off a bunch of fat and starts to brown, add the brussels sprouts. Spread the sprouts evenly & stir occasionally until they start to brown. For best results, I suggest using two large frying pans side by side, to increase the amount of surface area where the sprouts touch the pan directly. This helps the browning process and will boost the rich nutty flavour of your sauteed brussel sprouts.

3. Once the brussel sprouts have browned, add the shaved almonds and continue sautéeing until they too have brown. The nuts will toast quickly so be careful not to let them burn.

4. Season the brussels sprouts with Montreal steak spice & a few drops of tabasco.





Monday, December 3, 2012

Cod with lemon rice & seared fennel


        This dish is an example of how just a few ingredients, cooked from scratch can make a quick and satisfying meal. I love pairing fennel with fish, and the lemon flavoured rice makes for a perfect accompaniment. This dish is very similar to my recipe for baked cod in a wasabi crust with braised fennel, but much simpler. The lemon rice is very straightforward and the pan seared fennel takes about 5 minutes to make. The cod is cooked exactly the same way as the fennel and you can even use the same pan twice, to cut down on clean up. 

           For the lemon rice I use arborio, which is the kind of rice used to make risotto. It's a very starchy rice, and when cooked right it has a very creamy texture. Japanese sushi rice would also work really well for this recipe.  

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Serves 2 



Ingredients

2 filets of cod
1 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tbs lemon zest
3 tbs lemon juice
1 small white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel
3 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
1/4 cup chives, chopped


1. Heat 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs butter in a pot and sweat the onions on medium heat until the are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, then add the rice. Add half the chicken stock, stir occasionally until it comes to a simmer, and then add the remaining chicken stock. Simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender - about 10 minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice & chives. Season with salt & pepper. If the rice becomes to dry before it is fully cooked, add a little water to keep it from sticking to the pot.

2. While the rice is cooking, make the pan seared fennel. Slice the fennel 1/4 inch thick (about 1/2 cm.) Heat 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs butter in a large frying pan. Season the fennel slices with salt and pepper and then lay them down in the pan without any overlap. Fry the fennel on medium-high heat until they are browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the fennel and continue cooking until they are soft, about 2 more minutes.





3. Once the fennel is cooked, set it aside in a warm place and use the same frying pan to cook the fish. Once again heat 1 tbs olive oil with 1 tbs butter. Season the fish with salt & pepper and them fry on medium high heat until the fish is browned, about 5 minute. Flip the fish and continue cooking until the filets just start to break apart at the touch of a fork, about 2 to 6 minutes depending on thickness.

4. Serve over a mount of rice with a few slices of seared fennel. Garnish with extra chives.